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Monday September 10 1:20 PM ET
Hundreds of Thousands of U.S. Children in Sex Trade
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As many as 400,000 US children are victims of the sex trade each
year, from juvenile pornography and street prostitution to selling sex at school, a study
released on Monday said.
``Child sexual exploitation is the most hidden form of child abuse in the US and North
America today. It is the nation's least recognized epidemic,'' said Richard Estes, a
University of Pennsylvania professor of social work and co-author of the report on the
sexual exploitation of children. Based on field research and surveys from 288 federal and
local agencies, the study estimated between 300,000 and 400,000 children in America were
victims of sexual exploitation each year. The report also looked at the child sex trade in
Mexico and Canada but those results have not yet been released.
``That figure just blew our minds. We never at the beginning of the study thought we would
encounter so many children in this predicament,'' Estes told Reuters.
Estes and his team visited 17 US cities over a 2-year period, meeting with federal and
local law enforcement agencies, human services departments and hundreds of children living
at home and on the streets.
Contrary to popular belief, as many boys as girls were affected, but Estes said boys got
less attention both from law enforcement and social services because of the view that they
could look after themselves. ``Every place we went, we found for every girl there was a
boy involved too. People feel a need to protect girls and for boys it's thought of as
sowing their oats,'' said Estes, adding some boys graduated from their years of sexual
servitude to becoming pimps.
The largest groups of children affected were runaway, ''throwaway'' and homeless youths,
many of whom used ``survival sex'' to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other things
needed to eke out a living on America's streets, Estes said.
``Like other groups of sexually exploited persons, street children are exposed to
violence, drug abuse, rape and, sometimes, even murder at the hands of the pimps,
'customers' and traffickers that make up their world.'' Estes said some children sold
themselves for sex to high school students while living at home and used the money to buy
more expensive clothes and other consumer goods. Many of these children lived in
secure middle-class homes and few parents were aware of what was going on. This group also
included American youths who crossed into Canada or Mexico in search of cheaper drugs,
alcohol and sex, Estes noted. The sexual exploitation of children affected all racial,
ethnic and socioeconomic groups, although children from poorer families appeared to be at
a higher risk.
Estes said a disproportionate number of street youths had histories of recurrent physical
or sexual abuse at home and took to the streets in a bid to stop this.
``It is ironic that running away from home increases their risk of physical violence and
sexual abuse,'' he said. Sexual predators also came from all parts of society
and included relatives and other adults known and trusted by the children. Despite popular
notions to the contrary, Estes said strangers committed fewer than 4% of all the sexual
assaults against children.